I. Nature of the Conflict
The Moral Majority was founded by Rev. Jerry Falwell in 1979 after much persuasion by evangelist Francis Scheffer. It was he who thoroughly convinced Falwell that matters like abortion were not just Catholic issues, but concerned American Protestants as well. This movement aimed to curtail the secular and more modern cultural trends of things to come such as legalized abortion, women’s rights movement, and gay rights. They also fought for the right to retain and maintain public prayer in schools as well as allow for biblical creationism to be taught alongside evolution in the classroom.
Leaders and members of the Moral Majority started actively working with Roman Catholic officials and others who supported their platform and agenda. These included a tough anti-communist foreign policy, defense spending, and support for the State of Israel.
Both leaders and members of the movement saw a leader that they could actively and vigorously endorse in Ronald Reagan. Reagan appealed to the Christian sentiments of the Religious Right and they were able to finally once again have a sense of validation. As a candidate, he advocated for Constitutional amendments that fit into the movements agenda and paid lip service, but as President evangelicals felt as if he never delivered on his promises. The movements leader Jerry Falwell step down after the Reagan era and announced that he would be returning to his position as a full-time minister in order to preach the Gospel.
The movement was then picked up by televangelist Pat Robertson who ran for Pres. in 1988 and lost. He renamed the movement the Christian Coalition and advocated for Pres. George W. Bush when he ran for the office. The movement has been very tightly aligned with the Republican Party and their party positions ever since that time.
All of this was done in an effort to drastically scale back what they saw as the evil secular and humanist teachings being introduced into the culture and to preserve what they saw as the Christian culture and heritage of American life.
Fast forward to the 2016 election and Donald Trump’s rise and favorability among evangelicals and you will get a vastly different picture. A younger generation of evangelicals want their religious leaders to be less involved with politics and more involved with the message of Christ and social justice issues. The man that best represents the message of Christ and social justice issues is Dr. Russell Moore, President of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. He represents a generational as well as a power struggle between those who want to return to Christ’s core message and those who wish to maintain the status quo. There are those from this latter segment of evangelicals who are threatening to pull funding from the ERLC and divert it somewhere else because of Moore’s blistering criticisms of Donald Trump and his ardent supporters in the evangelical community.
The Baptist Press reports that his opponents included former Southern Baptist Convention President Jack Graham, Louisiana Baptist Convention executive director David Hankins and former SBC Executive Committee chairman William Harrell among others.
Dr. Moore’s supporters included, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. and evangelical voter Ruth Malhotra, whom the Wall Street Journal reports is a Millennial Republican who opposed Trump and has expressed support for Moore.
This struggle between Moore and his critics began with, according to the Wall Street Journal, his attempt “to guide Baptists to adopt a softer tone toward gays and lesbians, and to build alliances with Muslims, Jews and Catholics.” He also chastised evangelicals who so reflexively supported Republican candidates no matter how dubious their moral standing or integrity. This all came to a head with his criticisms of Trump and his supporters. He said that, “the old-guard religious right political establishment normalized an awful candidate,” adding that religious conservatives were one of the only groups “willing to defend serious moral problems, in high-flying moral terms no less.” In response pastors and other religious leaders, such as mega church Pastor Jack Graham of Prestonwood Baptist Church, stated, “There was a disrespectfulness towards Southern Baptists and other evangelical leaders, past and present,” and that his church is “considering making major changes in our support of the Southern Baptist Convention,”.
The perceived scarce resource is a loss of identity. This is evident when Pastor Graham worried that Dr. Moore would, “have no access, basically, to President Trump,” and Pastor Brad Whitt of Abilene Baptist Church in Georgia stated that, “We want to see what he says, and whether he has a seat at the table in Washington. If not, we’ll be wasting a whole lot of time, energy and finances that could be going to the mission field.” In a speech to First Things in Oct. Dr. Moore asserted that the Christian first and primary allegiance and citizenship was to God above all else and that Caesar was second.
II. Orientation to the Conflict
In terms of conflict Dr. Moore doesn’t desire a conflict and neither do his critics, however both are heartily determined to stay firm on their positions. Dr. Moore exemplified this when he responded to his critics in an essay shared with the Wall Street Journal which read,
“I remember one situation where I witnessed a handful of Christian political operatives excusing immorality and confusing the definition of the gospel,” Moore wrote. “I was pointed in my criticisms, and felt like I ought to have been. But there were also pastors and friends who told me when they read my comments they thought I was criticizing anyone who voted for Donald Trump.
“I told them then, and I would tell anyone now: if that’s what you heard me say, that was not at all my intention, and I apologize. There’s a massive difference between someone who enthusiastically excused immorality and someone who felt conflicted, weighed the options based on biblical convictions, and voted their conscience,” Moore wrote.
For their part his detractors, such as William F. Harrell, a former member of the Southern Baptist Convention’s executive committee, stated that the ERLC should remain under Dr. Moore’s leadership only if, “he will start doing what the ERLC was meant to do, and that’s simply represent the Southern Baptist people in Washington.”
“Don’t talk condescendingly to the Southern Baptist people if they don’t agree with you,” he said.
A metaphor that Dr. Moore used to describe this conflict is that it has been taken over by old guard religious right Republicans. “The old-guard religious right political establishment normalized an awful candidate.” The definition of old-guard is stated as being “the original or
long-standing members of a group or party, especially ones who are unwilling to accept change or new ideas.” In contrast, his detractors have not made use of metaphors to describe the conflict.
For some time, I have taken to comparing this generational, societal, religious, and political divide as being one between the Pharisees of Jesus’ day and Nicodemus the moderate and one more in tune with the teachings of Christ. The Pharisees became so reliant on the State for their identity and protection and in turn were rewarded with lavish lifestyles and decadence, which allowed Christ to expose them as hypocrites and whitewashed tombs. They forgot what truly lied at the heart of the commandments was love for God and neighbor. God demands that the truly righteous seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with Him. That should be the goal of all followers of Christ.
III. Interests and Goals
In the beginning of the conflict between Dr. Russell Moore and the SBC, it appeared that Pastor Jack Graham of Prestonwood Baptist Church believed that Dr. Moore had a goal to undermine the SBC. Pastor Graham had made this clear when he stated that, “There was a disrespectfulness towards Southern Baptists and other evangelical leaders, past and present,”. Other critics wanted to see him fired. Dr. Moore, on the other hand, perceived that the goals of his critics were to remain tied to the Republican Party to retain religious and political power. Dr. Moore gave an apology and a clarification was made where he said that, “I stand by those convictions, but I did not separate out categories of people well—such that I wounded some, including close friends,” said Moore. “I cannot go back and change time, and I cannot apologize for my underlying convictions. But I can—and do—apologize for failing to distinguish between people who shouldn’t have been in the same category with those who put politics over the gospel and for using words, particularly in social media, that were at times overly broad or unnecessarily harsh. That is a failure on my part.” After this apology and clarification some of his critics no longer called for his ouster from the Presidency of the Ethics of the SBC. Others called for reconciliation, healing, and unity.
Dr. Moore’s and the SBC’s retrospective goals were dissimilar because the former wanted to return the SBC to its focus on the Gospel as the center of its mission instead of relying too heavily on politics. The later was content with the status quo. The transitive goals remain unchanged; however the retrospective goals are similar because both parties seek unity, peace, and reconciliation.
TRIP goals have been stated, however, it is worth noting that concerning perspectives goals Dr. Moore admitted that his tone as well as his choice of words could have been handled and chosen differently to clarify his position and to avoid offending and over generalizing those in the SBC who voted for Donald Trump,
Identity and relational goals do appear to be significant drivers of this dispute. I believe the evidence lies in fact that those who voted for Trump strongly believe in the right to life and that same sex marriage is a sin and unconstitutional. This belief led them to vote for Trump despite what they might have otherwise determined to be disqualifying behavior from him.
Dr. Moore believed that those who voted for Trump were denying the core principles of the Gospel by being willing to overlook his vices in favor of traditional political and religious unity.
The question of relationship then arises and the question appears to be, “Are we still together on this and what is our outlook going forward?” The first part of the question seems to have been answered. Both parties desire unity, however the latter question has yet to be determined.
The SBC president stated that the power to remove Dr. Moore from his position at the ERLC would have remained with the ERLC Board of Trustees. Other, more explicit comments on power have not been mentioned.
Neither parties list their dependencies upon one another, however, the youth and the African American community within the SBC would have been greatly distressed and felt a tremendous disassociation from the denomination if Moore were forced to retire from his position. SBC youth and African Americans overwhelmingly support Dr. Moore and his firm stance on Trump and other social issues that many in the denomination seem unwilling or able to discuss openly.
Numerous onlookers have noted that if Dr. Moore were to depart then he would have a significant backing and support group behind him. It appears that the SBC leader, Frank Page, acknowledged this very real possibility as evidenced by his willingness to ask for unity and reconciliation along with Moore in a joint statement which read,
“We deepened our friendship and developed mutual understanding on ways we believe will move us forward as a network of churches,”
“We fully support one another and look forward to working together on behalf of Southern Baptists in the years to come,” they stated. “We will collaborate on developing future steps to deepen connections with all Southern Baptists as we work together to advance the Great Commission of our lord Jesus Christ.” In order to come to this point in the conflict Each party had to style their messages in various ways.
Dr. Russell Moore as well as his critics from the head leadership and influence of the Southern Baptist Convention both used different conflict styles in order to convey their feelings about the conflict concerning the 2016 Election and Donald Trump. Both Dr. Moore’s as well as the SBC’s conflict styles seemed to be competitive. Dr. Moore was fighting against what he saw as political and religious idolatry while the SBC was trying to maintain a sense of relevancy in national politics and government in order to influence these spheres in the religiously conservative ideology.
Dr. Moore changed his conflict style in time and compromised by stating that his words were perceived in the wrong light and taken to mean that he was questioning Evangelical Trump supporter’s faith. He clarified that this was not the case. His critics in the SBC in turn revoked their original call for his removal from the presidency of the ethics arm of the denomination. He acknowledged that he failed to make distinctions between groups which created and led to misunderstanding and division.
The SBC leadership and clergy who made significant financial contributions to the SBC for various mission’s trips and other activities, were unfazed by Dr. Moore’s December 2016 apology as he remained steadfast in his opposition to Trump and those who put politics over faith. His critics perceived it as digging in his heels and because of this they did the same leading to calls for him to be removed from his position as president of the ethics wing of the SBC. These styles of conflict seemed to be symmetrical in nature.
The advantages of this competitive style of conflict concerning this particular issue is that America and the rest of the denomination were allowed to come face to face with the deep conflicts that still continue to afflict the SBC. Racism, misogyny, sexism, and all of the vices that Trump presented in the election are still present in the church and cause great tension between the older and younger generations and between races and ethnicities. It also showed how politics has been fused with religion in the minds of Southern Baptists as in the age of Constantine when he converted the Roman Empire into the Holy Roman Empire. The disadvantages of this conflict style are that disunity has arisen and now minorities within the SBC are afraid of their white Brothers and Sisters and feel that they cannot trust them. This creates great tension among the Body of Believers.
Throughout this entire conflict, Dr. Moore’s strategy was simply to clarify his position, but remain firm in his opposition. His critics escalated the situation each time by making threats related to financial contributions and calling for his removal.
VI. Conflict and Emotions
In my situation, I have attempted to utilize understanding and patience in my approach to change and have found these approaches to be very effective.
I have expressed a small amount of frustration, calm, attentiveness, patience, and understanding in this situation. The other party seemed to be certain, smug, judgmental, paranoid, and quarrelsome. I felt as if he was trying to start arguments while I was trying to come to a healthy resolution or proper understanding of the situation.
I am learning that emotions are good and can oftentimes be effective, but they must be used in the right manner and at the right time to be effective.
I can use positive emotions to bring calm to my conflict and to provide a space for transparency so that we might arrive at the heart of the issue and therefore come to an informed, honest, and effective resolution or compromise in understanding.
By utilizing these approaches and attempting to moderate my emotions I maintained control of the path that the issue took and as a result we have not diverted from the “zone of effectiveness.”
In conclusion, the Southern Baptist Convention’s tension with Dr. Russell Moore is based off of identity politics which has led to the denominational, racial, and generational tensions we observe today. Dr. Moore spoke out about Donald Trump’s moral bankruptcy and called out those who supported him and as a result his job and livelihood were threatened. In order to calm the tension, Dr. Moore apologized for his tone, but stood by his statements. His critics, such as Jack Graham of Prestonwood Baptist Church, perceived his first apology as him digging in his heels and called for his termination. Ultimately, Dr. Moore apologized a second time and met with the SBC leader Frank Page to discuss how to take steps toward unity. I believe that this tension still lingers under the surface. If people come together and engage and talk to one another, but also desegregate their churches, a path can be forged towards a proper resolution.